Article from National Park Service
Moses H. Cone was a self-made man in the best American tradition. His textile mills produced high quality denim fabric, earning him the title, “Denim King.” Fond of nature and plagued by poor health, Moses was drawn to the mountainous region of western North Carolina with its moderate climate, fresh spring water, and clean air. In the mid-1890’s, Moses and his wife, Bertha, journeyed to Blowing Rock to design and build their summer estate, Flat Top Manor.
The 3,516 acres of the estate included Flat Top Mountain and Rich Mountain. Situated on top of a hill, the luxurious 20-room house looked down across acres of apple orchards leading to Bass Lake. In order to see the mountain vistas, Cone had a lookout tower constructed on top of Flat Top Mountain.
The Cones were “naturalists” before the term became popular, working to preserve and enrich their land. They planted extensive white pines and hemlocks and transported sugar maples directly from New England. The 32,000 apple trees Moses established produced prize-winning apples.
Beautiful Carriage Roads
Perhaps the aspect of the estate most appreciated by visitors today is the 25 miles of beautiful carriage roads. They remain an enduring example of the Cones’ appreciation of the natural beauty around them.
Formal rhododendron plantings are a feature of nearly all the trails. Purple or Catawba rhododendron and rosebay rhododendron are abundant, blooming in June and July respectively. Mountain laurel, also planted extensively, is admired for the large clusters of pinkish flowers appearing in late spring.
Another spring favorite found along the carriage trails is serviceberry or “Juneberry,” one of the first woodland trees to bloom. Hemlock hedges and white pine plantations also are abundant. A somewhat uncommon tree in the Southern Highlands, the transplanted sugar maple flourished in the cool, high elevations and the moist coves of the mountains.
Other trees on the estate include black, white, and red oak, several hickory species, and birch. Autumn color king of the southern mountains, the red maple with its bright red, yellow, and green leaves probably delighted Cone guests enjoying the fall scenery from the front veranda.
The 25 miles of gently sloping carriage roads in Cone Park offer many opportunities for leisurely hiking. Visit the Cone Cemetery en route to Flat Top Tower, which offers a grand panorama of distant mountains. Wander through what remains of the apple orchards. Stroll around Bass Lake, investigate the Maze and apple barn. Most of the trails are multi-purpose; along the way you may meet horseback riders, joggers, or in winter, cross-country skiers. Please be considerate of other visitors. Help preserve these historic trails by staying on the designated paths.
When Can You Go?
The magnificent Flat Top Manor now houses the Parkway Craft Center and a National Park Service information desk open daily from April or May to November. During the summer, artisans demonstrate their skills on the front porch. The park is open year round.